It's Time to Reinvent the Pencil

A class of Israeli design students take their shot at the iconic tool.

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Dec 1 2015, 1:30pm

Ofta Oberman, Brush Pencils, 2015. Images courtesy Luka Or

The yellow #2, a six-sided stick of wood and paint with a graphite core, is the image evoked when we talk about the pencil, but a class of Israeli students are designing themselves out of that old paradigm. Led by design teachers Luka Or and Keren Tomer, a third-year industrual design class at the Holon Institute of Technology has turned the classic writing utensil into paintbrushes, stamps, and even optimized them for writing letters.

"The pencil is a very specific and classic object with a big historical and cultural value," Or tells The Creators Project. The graphite writing utensil is older than America and so ubiquitous it's literally an icon in most operating systems. It was perhaps the only device that every single student was guaranteed to have personal experience with. "We gave them a short presentation on the history of the pencil and some examples of innovations in the field, and then gave them the assignment: design your own pencil! We drove them to look at all the aspect of the pencil as the base for their innovation: materials, technologies, uses, story, etc. We kept it really open for interpretations so that this specific and known object will be a base for a wide research and designs." 

Gal Yacobi Stamp Pencil, 2015

One student named Noy Meiri created a set of pizza cutter-like pencils that are specifically designed for making markings in fashion. Another student name Gal Yacobi's model has a stamp on the back, ideal for sealing letters with wax. Yael Hasid created a pair of +/- Pencils, one of which writes while the other erases. A primal-looking set of two-sided pencils offer its user both precise and broad strokes of color. One of the most visually interesting projects, executed by Ofta Oberman, is essentially a set of paintless graphite paintbrushes. Says Or, "The 18 pencils produced were diverse in shapes forms and stories and presented a range of conceptual approaches. And this is what we wanted."

With the veritable cornucopeia of twisted takes, is it finally time to abandon our 20th century notions of what a pencil is supposed to look like? Or says no: "The pencil today is perfect. It is an everyday classic tool that has managed to be relevant with everything changing around it."  Rather, the exercise teaches students that any design can be revamped. He continues, "We love pencils. The idea was not to challenge the pencil but rather to use it as a base for self-expression and for design innovation. The fact that we all know and use the pencil and can recall hours of using it was a good starting point. Design should start from a place of empathy."

Or and Tomer's next assignment will have a broader range within the category of gift products that their class focuses on, so remember the names in this article when you're looking for Christmas presents in 2017.

Ofta Oberman, Brush Pencil, 2015

Gal Yacobi Stamp Pencil, 2015

Evgeny Barkov, GAVISH Carving Pencils, 2015

Noy Meiri, Roller Pencils, 2015

Yael Hasid, +/- Pencils, 2015

Yam Amir, Tube Pencil, 2015

Eytan Berkovic, Fairy Pencil, 2015


See Luka Or and Keren Tomer's own design work on their websites.

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